This doesn't end well for anyone.

In early February, Alistair Edwards took over from the sacked Ian Ferguson as interim coach of Perth Glory FC. In late March, he was appointed full-time coach on a three year contract with the club's full backing to control the direction of the club's footballing future and establish a focus on developing talented young players. This week, merely months later, he was sacked for losing the confidence of the dressing room.

Just what the hell happened here?

Well, that all depends who you ask. The straw man argument is that Alistair Edwards and Jacob Burns had a major clash after Burns was left benched on his return from suspension. Burns watched on as Edwards' two sons played ahead of him, then confronted the coach and spat the dummy - seemingly with the phrase "Need to be called Edwards to get a game" thrown in there somewhere. The playing squad splintered from there, most seemed to side with the captain as opposed to the coach, and Glory backed their players and threw Edwards out. Team Edwards versus Team Jacob. Simple, right? 

Not quite. 

Plunging the murky depths here - raking through tweets, talking to the CEO and owner, reading Edwards' own statements, and trying to separate rumour from spin from reality - is difficult. Reading between the lines, it would seem that the following events are close enough to truth as we're likely to get.

  • Edwards was hired on the basis of building a programme of youth development, especially local youngsters, that would put the club in good stead for years to come. He was given full control over signings as a result.
  • He brought sons Ryan (on loan from Reading) and Cameron (a free agent after release from Melbourne Heart) to the club.
  • The Edwards boys, especially Ryan, have been consistently given game time under their Dad this year. So have Vukovic, Burns, Davies/Risdon, Jamieson, Sidnei, and Jamie Maclaren among others.
  • Edwards Snr has had no qualms about playing youth in general - even without his boys' minutes included, young players are getting more minutes per game this season than they have before, and injuries mean young guys in the side from the NYL rather than shuffling Jacob Burns to centre back or Steve Pantelidis to right back (for example).
  • Some players have been deemed surplus to requirements by the new coach; Steve Pantelidis and Isaka Cernak are obvious examples, and others at the very least have seen less game time this year, such as Adrian Zahra.
  • Someone within the club circle has consistently leaked information about people being concerned with Edwards' boys to the media almost since the start of the season; rumours and murmurings never making the papers but consistently releasing tidbits about contract clauses, player unhappiness, and selection questions.
  • There was definitely drama in the dressing rooms after the Victory match which saw a confrontation between Alistair Edwards and (at least) Jacob Burns, resulting in nobody fronting the post-match presser for Glory.

I would imagine that all parties - fans, CEO, board, owner, players, and even Edwards himself - could agree on the above points. Beyond here though is where it gets very messy indeed; not to mention perhaps bordering on litigation where the now-former manager is concerned. Social media, podcasts, and newspaper columns have been buzzing with rumour and speculation, and the club has seemingly been very slow to respond.
In an effort to resolve some of this, CEO Jason Brewer and board member (now Director of Football Communications) Declan Kelly offered to meet fans at the Terrace Lounge in Perth's CBD. Only a handful of fans attended, including myself, and the two club representatives did their best to keep things calm and make people look towards the future rather than dwell on the issues of the present or past. In itself, that's fair enough, as the club has an interest in both their fans and playing group not fracturing over this issue. It is no surprise then to see that they are keen to look forward and move on in the face of drama. They have a direct commercial responsibility to convey news and events in a way that does not reflect badly on the brand and those still involved with it.
That said, Kelly and Brewer should be given credit for their willingness to face the fans in spite of everything that has happened, considering that in the past the club would have entered damage control mode, locking itself down and blacking out communications while it formulated the story to put out to the press. Now that has still happened this time - any organisation has an interest in pushing a change in the best possible light - but Brewer seems to recognise that face-to-face conversations with fans are one way of doing that, and that should be commended for it.
Some things couldn't be discussed because of legal matters, other questions were politely steered in another direction, and both Kelly and Brewer reiterated many of the points that had already been communicated to the media, such as Naven and Miller still being valuable staff members at the club and that they were continuing to train their teams as normal. On the plus side, they did seem willing to accept criticism of the fact that it took a public spat for this issue to come to their attention - and in the past few days we've seen Kelly appointed in a new role in an effort to bring these sorts of issues to the club's attention sooner, keeping the administration more in the loop in regards to issues within the football department. Conversations were frank, honest, and often critical - but no new information really emerged beyond the points described above, and most discussions seemed to be within the comfort zone of the club.

Then Tony Sage arrived.

I've stated before that Sage is a divisive figure amongst fans. You can't question his passion or commitment for the club (well, except at the times where he tells The West he's ready to pack it in) and his strong views resonate with some of the more passionate sections of our fanbase (telling FFA to stop Jarred Gillett refereeing in WA "for his own safety"). That being said, his opinions and passions put a lot of other people out. He doesn't hold back from saying things that some may find unpopular, and his statements to the press often seem ill-conceived or out of step with the club, and as a result he builds a reputation as a bit of a loose cannon. Wednesday night's chat simply reinforces all of the above points, ensuring that to some he is a white knight and others a mad hatter.
To begin with, Sage was asked about the Naven situation and without any hesitation stated that the assistant had been asked to take the game on Sunday, but that he didn't want to out of "some kind of loyalty for Alistair". Sage went on to state that if Naven didn't take the squad for Sunday's game, he'd be moved on; a statement that a number of other people in the room looked somewhat uncomfortable with. This seemed to give fans the impression that a chat with Tony would be lot more open than the more considered conversations Brewer and Kelly provided, so in came further questioning.
Sage's version of events was that around six players confronted Edwards on the night of the game, indicating that Thwaite and Vukovic were both part of that group but not going to the extent of naming all of them. He claimed Edwards was a poor man manager who handled the situation poorly - rather than telling all the players to regroup later at the hotel, he allowed the confrontation to happen. When he got back to the airport in Perth, Edwards then broke media policy by speaking directly to reporters about the incident (Kelly and Brewer interrupting to back Sage up on this point). From here, Brewer was asked to run a full review of the incident (and later, the club) to find out what happened. Apparently, once the remaining players outside of the initial group of six were interviewed, they were split in opinion - but common themes did emerge from a number of players about Edwards' actions and behaviours in the dressing room and with players in general.
Sage was angered that Edwards had "humiliated Burnsy" by leaving him on the bench for the Melbourne match. He credited Burns for apologising to Edwards when asked to, but then condemned Alistair for asking that Jacob be punished for his actions. Sage stated that he would be fining "Burnsy" but that he would not hear of Burns being delisted or having the captaincy stripped from him. When the club put a set of conditions to Edwards (which Brewer said did not include having to front a selection committee) he declined them and that was that; Sage mentioned there were contractual issues now to be resolved, but that had to be left to the lawyers of both parties.
The Chairman made it very clear in his answering of questions where he personally stood in his opinion of Alistair Edwards. I questioned Sage on why, if Edwards was so poor to work with, the club hadn't noticed this while he was still an interim manager. Sage's response was to dismiss this by saying Edwards did what he needed to do to get people "wrapped around his finger" and it was only over time that his true nature came out. He said Edwards had subbed Danny De Silva off at half time without telling him why (which would seem odd, considering Edwards told Fox post-game it was over concerns Danny was running out of puff) and that after demanding that the club sign William Gallas, Edwards proceeded to ignore him once he picked up an injury.
Sage also made it clear that he thought some of the players that Edwards had signed simply weren't good enough. When questioned then by a supporter why the board had not stepped in if there were concerns about recruitment, Sage said that the club had given Edwards the freedom to sign who he wanted. When further pressed as to who signed the cheques for all the transfers, Sage claimed that Edwards did and that it wasn't his role as chairman to get involved. He was angry that Pantelidis had been let go for free, as even when Billy Mehmet was released by the club Sage claimed he was able to get around $30,000 for his transfer to his Asian side.
When someone questioned Sage about his own statements during the 'crisis' - speaking to the media despite the club not yet having put out an official statement. Sage's response was belligerent, saying that he owned the club and as a result could say what he wanted. All these claims - bar owning the club of course - are simply Sage's side of the story. Obviously, no players or coaching staff (past or present) were there at the pub to give supporters their own versions of events, and I would encourage people to draw their own conclusions as they see fit rather than solely believing anything that Edwards, Brewer, or Sage say depending on whether you fit into 'Team Jacob' or 'Team Edwards' - which is a pity, because there's greater issues at play here than a coach and some players falling out.
As Shayne Hope so eloquently put in The West Australian this weekend, how could the club let this develop to a point where such a damaging incident has occurred? Clearly, with the leaks that have gone on through the season, someone close to the matter has known what has happened - yet at no point did the CEO, Chairman, or advisory board know of anything? At all? It beggars belief. Yes, the club has improved off the field this year, and yes - the appointment of a Director of Football Communications may have some kind of impact in bridging footballing matters with administrative ones. But the club is so reactive, and seems to have an ingrained culture of 'Oh well, another failure, let's just plod on again' that fans must surely ask how long it will be until the next drama unfolds. Jason Brewer has been doing a good enough job trying to bring the club back to the fans. But as Sage himself demonstrated on Wednesday night, the CEO faces an uphill battle trying to put out fires that the club creates for itself. 
As I said to begin with, this whole drama ends well for no-one. Not Edwards, who clearly made a rod for his own back signing his sons - regardless of their ability - and evidently lost at least some, perhaps even the majority, of the playing group. Not Burns, who has become the fall guy for those who thinks Edwards was treated harshly - and while Burns himself arguably benefited from favouritism along with other players who were rendered 'undroppable' under Mitchell and Ferguson, his outburst has now tarnished his own reputation, no matter how justified it may have been. Not Sage, who continues to demonstrate his ability to shove a foot in his mouth when flying low under the radar may be a better option. Finally, certainly not Perth Glory, who began a season with a clear new direction and have now parted company with the man charged with implementing it.
There is more at play here than Burns vs Edwards - and it's quite likely that nobody will ever be able to agree on what actually happened to get us here. But there is no doubt that this was a damaging episode for the club and nobody looks better as a result of it.